Sexual torture has been one of the effects of militarization in Mexico. Although it was in 2006 that Mexico began a process of generalized militarization in public security under the name of the «war against drugs«, there are some regions that have been a battleground since the 1960s.

Guerrero is one of the states where public security has been in the hands of the military for decades and it is an example of impunity and abuse of power legitimized through processes of political repression by the armed forces since the 1970s. It is probably one of the states of the federation where the «guerra sucia» showed its cruellest face and where the military presence has been intensifying every year and the practices of terror against the civilian population have become more outrageous.

Different international human rights bodies have documented the effects of militarization: arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, torture and other human rights violations. The violence generated in the context of this phenomenon affects women and girls in particular.

On several occasions, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has expressed its concern about the effects of this public security strategy on the intensification of widespread discrimination and violence against women. A report of the Committee presented in August 2012 mentions the prevalence of sexual violence against women in regions where the Army o Navy carry out security operations. In this sense, the process of militarization of public security in Mexico has engendered cases of sexual violence and ​​torture by the Armed Forces[1]

The human rights organizations that integrate the campaign «Breaking the silence: All together against sexual torture» have pointed out the urgence to emphasize that sexual violence against women is not a fact dissociated from torture; the acts of sexual abuse are not only spontaneous decisions of the responsible in relation to sexist culture, but also a repeated strategy used by State agents as a tool for «investigation» or repression. The testimonies of sexual torture survivors prove a “modus operandi” making evident the generalization of this practice.[2] The effects of militarization on women have serious consequences to their dignity and project of life, and these expand to their communities to the point of tearing down the social fabric.

In 2002, at least 15 cases of sexual torture of indigenous women by the military were reported in Guerrero. From those, the worldwide-known cases of Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega have been emblematic of this pattern of military violence against women. That year, in two different events, these me’phaa indigenous women from the state of Guerrero were victims of sexual torture committed by elements of the army. They survived this atrocity and for more than 16 years, Inés and Valentina have sought justice despite threats and harassment. Due to their tireless struggle, in 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued two judgements against the Mexican State. Both cases have set a regional justice precedent given that the Court recognized sexual violence as torture and frames it in a context of “institutional violence by military”. However, the fight of Valentina and Inés has not yet finished. The Court also ordered Mexico to investigate and determine criminal responsibilities and punishment in a reasonable period of time for the authorities involved in the human rights violations of Ms. Rosendo Cantú and Ms Fernández Ortega. Furthermore, the investigations should be carried out by the civilian criminal jurisdiction with gender and ethnicity perspectives.

Nevertheless, even after the international judgement, access to justice has been a long journey for both women. Today, I would like to particularly address the case of Valentina Rosendo Cantú because she has recently and once more set a precedent for justice of women who survive sexual torture. After the judgment of the Inter-American Court, for two years the investigations of her case in Mexico remained in the military jurisdiction in spite of the multiple formal requests made by Mrs Rosendo Cantú to perform the investigation in the civil justice system. It was only until August 2012 that the Attorney General’s Office for Military Justice (PGJM) notified Valentina that the investigations related to the rape and torture committed against her had been sent to the Attorney General’s Office (PGR).

Consequently, in October 2013, the Attorney General’s Office, through the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and Human Trafficking (FEVIMTRA) started in the federal justice system a preliminary investigation of torture, rape and abuse of authority, committed against Valentina Rosendo Cantú, requesting the arrest warrants of a member of the army and a former member of the army. A few months later, the judge issued a formal order for the imprisonment of both perpetrators while the investigation took place. During all the process Valentina had to face re-victimization when she confronted in judicial proceedings one of her aggressors and had to repeat her testimony.

On February 14, 2018, a hearing was held, in which the Special Prosecutor presented its accusatory findings against the two military for the acts committed against Valentina Rosendo Cantú. Three months later, on June 1, 2018, the Judge Iliana Fabricia Contreras Perales of the Seventh District Court in the State of Guerrero issued a sentence against Nemesio Sierra García and Armando Pérez Abarca for the crimes of rape and torture. The resolution states that the accused are criminally responsible for these crimes and have been sentenced to 19 years, five months and one day of prison, also condemning them to repair for Valentina’s damages.

The judgement issued is historic and has great relevance in the process of justice that Valentina Rosendo Cantú has been undertaking since 2002. The judge incorporated international human rights standards, gender and ethnicity perspectives, and included the reasoning of the Inter-American Court in arguing that rape is a form of torture.

The judge gave preponderant evidentiary value to Valentina’s testimony. She used different jurisprudential criteria to support the value of victims’ testimonies, since rape by its nature is carried out, almost always, without witnesses. She also points out that sexual violence committed by public officers with the purpose of punishing for a failure to provide information should be understood as a special form of torture, given the great physical and psychological suffering caused to her is so extreme that it impacts on her dignity, humiliating and denigrating her. She stated that emotional recover from an event of this nature is in most cases illusory and the damage transcends its effects to personal, family and community life.

Valentina was 17 years old at the time, she is an indigenous woman and lived in a poor community in the mountains of Guerrero. The sentence highlights that aggressors took advantage of their position of authority and the vulnerability of the victim, and so, recalls the concept of «asymmetry of power» to indicate the special vulnerability of Valentina Rosendo Cantú in relation to her assailants who not only outnumbered her, but who belonged to the armed forces and were armed. The judge also noted that the accused took advantage of an «environment of coercion» through their membership of the Mexican army, which may imply that just by belonging to the armed forces, soldiers create this kind of coercive environment.[3]

Today, this judicial resolution breaks with military impunity. It is the first time in Mexico that the investigative and punishment obligations ordered from a Inter-American Court’s sentence are complied with. Thanks to the persistence of Valentina and the existence of an independent judge we have now a sentence that brings to domestic courts the justice sought by Valentina for 16 years and that will benefit women in Mexico and the world.

Valentina and Inés’ cases of sexual torture are clear examples of the effects of militarization and should set an example for any country but specially now in Mexico. This ruling comes at perfect timing. The Interior Security Law, a law that would implement a model of militarized security in Mexico, has been pointed out as a legislation that would probably increase human rights violations in Mexico given that Armed Forces are not qualified to perform public security tasks. Jan Jarab, the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Mexico, in the press conference a few days after the publishing of the ruling, held that “[the sentence] should be at the center of the considerations in the public discussion on why the security model for Mexico has to change[4]. In addition, he emphasized that  “this type of violations to human rights has been practiced as an exacerbated form of violence against women in the country”[5].

By examining Valentina and Inés cases, we can see that the ISL is not only inefficient in combating organized crime but also confronts the armed forces against the civilian population. Their first victims will be those who structurally and historically are at a disadvantage: women, children, indigenous peoples, among others. What is more, women’s bodies are commonly used by the Armed Forces as a battleground, which should set an alarm on the consequences that militarization will bring to women and girls in Mexico.

Therefore, it is important to look at this sentence as what the future may bring women in Mexico if the Interior Security Law in implemented. To give carte blanche to the military means to allow sexual torture to happen. It is necessary that the authorities, and now particularly the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico, declare the unconstitutionality and conventionality of this law. Let us not forget that one of Valentina’s (and also Inés’) forms of reparation in the sentence of the Inter-American Court relates to the modification of legislation in the sense of protecting the population against military abuse. In their cases, it involved modifying the Military Code of Justice so that human rights violations are investigated and judged in civil jurisdiction. Understanding these sentences as a guarantee of non-repetition would inevitably lead to prevent sexual torture to happen again, which means that the ISL is a was backwards and against this international judgement.

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[1] Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of discrimination against Women of 2012. Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/co/CEDAW-C-MEX-CO-7-8.pdf

[2] PRODH Centre. Report on Sexual Torture in Mexico.Framework, practices and impacts. Available only in Spanish at: http://centroprodh.org.mx/rompiendoelsilencio/?p=340

[3] The judge recalls the analysis from the IACt when talking about the intentions of torture; the damage of a sexual attack even when there is no physical evidence; the personal,  community and familiar damage; when explaining that the nature of rape and torture does not allowed to have witnesses; when analysing Valentina’s condition of indigenous and under-age; and the sexual violence as a specific way of torture (pp. 99 – 101, 108 -109, 194-197, 201-202). She also reminds the obligation of civilian prosecutors and judges to guarantee access to justice to victims of human rights violation as established in articles 5 and 8 from the American Convention on Human Rights (p. 152).

[4] ACUSTIK Noticias. Avaliable in Spanish at: http://acustiknoticias.com/2018/06/celebra-onu-mexico-sentencia-contra-militares-por-caso-valentina-cantu/

[5] Sin Embargo Press. Avaliable in Spanish at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/18-06-2018/3430413